Alternative spring break programs typically take place as far as eight hours away from campus, but this year, participating students ended their weekend with a campfire at Alumni Gym.
Programs are held each fall and spring as a way for students to volunteer and travel off campus. The five programs moved from a week-long experience to one weekend and took place in Burlington, Greensboro and Chapel Hill. All programs were less than one hour away from campus and were free for all participants. The school also required all participants to confirm a negative COVID-19 PCR test within a week of the program taking place.
Student coordinator and sophomore Savannah Josey planned to go to Costa Rica last spring but the trip was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Josey said she’s excited to serve as a program leader this year.
“Alternative breaks are unique in the sense that it connects different majors, whereas some of the other service programs may attract more of one type of major than others,” Josey said. “So I really wanted to facilitate a kind of cross-campus service experience.”
Each program focused on a different social issue chosen by student coordinators. Associate director for the Kernodle Center of Civic Life and program advisor Kyle Anderson sent out a survey to those students to gauge what issues they are passionate about and crafted the programs around those.
“Students' interests change, you know, year to year and then also, you know, because of COVID, I think interests have changed,” Anderson said. “There's more interesting issues like public health, and then, and there's always I think, interest in racial justice issues, but especially now with, with all the conversations happening on campus and across the country around racial justice.”
Issues this year focused on education gaps, racial justice and immigration and religious traditions. Josey said the idea of alternative breaks is to have equal parts education, direct service and reflection.
The coordinators took a one-credit class with Anderson in the fall and could pursue their service and leadership experiential learning requirements during the program.
Throughout the program, students met for more education and reflection and will meet a few weeks after the program is over for a final reflection. Although the programs are no more than a week long even in a normal year, Anderson said being immersed in the community is the best way to get a sense of the social issue discussed.
“I think we often think about a lot of our social issues not having challenges, but there's a lot of great work happening in communities all over the place,” Anderson said.
Students who volunteered with the education gap program collaborated with CityGate Dream Center in Burlington to create career and college readiness plans that would be made available to Alamance County. They ended up sharing their resources with those getting vaccinated at the newly-opened clinic.
“The programs are based around not so much where you're going, but the actual issue that you're tackling and we try to have our groups focus on that as a priority when they go off and do their experiences,” Anderson said.
Josey said volunteering locally helped her see differences between campus and the community because she returned to campus each night rather than staying on location.
“I'm a lot more passionate about, ‘How am I investing locally?’” Josey said. “And how am I kind of empowering people who live in this county and will live here after I graduate?”
Anderson said the organizations the Kernodle Center partners with for alternative breaks each year are a mix of recurring and new but it depends on the social issues chosen. Although this year’s trip was only for a weekend, he wants students to continue their work after they return.
“My hope is that students carry those stories with them, bring them back to campus, and then think about how they can help dive deeper and create meaningful space for conversation and action based on that issue or other related issues that they're passionate about,” Anderson said.
Fall and spring alternative break student coordinator applications are open on PhoenixCONNECT.